Clause 41 - Child to live with adopters before application

Part of Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:30 pm ar 29 Tachwedd 2001.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Robert Walter Robert Walter Ceidwadwyr, North Dorset 2:30, 29 Tachwedd 2001

I hope that there will be no confusion over these amendments, because they seek to remove confusion. I was perturbed to read the clause, because as a reasonably intelligent Member of Parliament, I found it peculiar that different time factors related to different forms of prospective adopters. If I find that confusing and muddling, heaven knows how prospective adopters might find it, especially if they fall into more than one of the categories.

I will discuss amendment No. 25 before turning to the amendments grouped with it, which are all essentially along the same lines and seek to find a way of providing some simplicity for the prospective adopter and to work in the best interests of the children who are being adopted.

Amendment No. 25 applies to line 20, in subsection (2), which states:

``in the case of an application by a married couple, with one or both of them at all times during the period of ten weeks''.

In other words, the child must have lived with one or other partner for 10 weeks during the period preceding the application.

At first, that seemed reasonable, but when I read the rest of the clause, it began to dawn on me that it might not be so reasonable. If the applicant is a step-parent, the period suddenly changes from 10 weeks to six months. It is apparently okay for an application to be made when the applicants are unknown to the child but the child has lived with them for 10 weeks, having been placed there by an adoption agency. On the other hand, that period changes to six months when the applicant is known to the child, as his or her step-parent. The clause continues by stating that if the applicants are foster parents—and therefore well known to the child, unlike the applicants in subsection (2)—they must have the child living with them for a year before they can make an application.

The clause continues until we reach the point dealt with in amendment No. 28, in line 29. Subsection (5) states:

``In any other case, the condition is that the child must have had his home with the applicant or, in the case of an application by a married couple, with one or both of them for not less than three years (whether continuous or not) during the period of five years preceding the application.''

Why do we jump from 10 weeks for one case to six months for another, one year for another, and three years out of five for yet another? Such differing times will lead to a great deal of confusion. The legislation that we make here should be as simple and readily understood as possible.

My amendments are to some extent probing amendments, because there is nothing magic about 13 weeks, just as there is nothing magic about 10 weeks, six months, one year or five years. However, in the case of children's welfare, delay is not something that we should encourage through legislation. In previous sittings, we emphasised the fact that we do not want excessive delay that prevents children from being adopted. Some of those subsections seem to encourage delay and create inconsistency in the treatment of prospective adoptive parents.

The amendments would simply remove confusion from the legislation, avoiding delay and looking after the best interests of the child while enabling an easier understanding of the law by those wishing to adopt. I hope that the Minister will look kindly on my amendments, and, if she is not prepared to accept them as they stand, will redraft them in an alternative form.